Tuesday, 14 March 2017

All change at the Royal Oak

It’s all change at the helm of the Royal Oak, in Prospect Road, Tunbridge Wells. As I write, current leaseholder and licensee Yvonne Blanche, is off to pastures new and stepping into her shoes is a company called Oak Craft Beer Co. The latter is a joint venture between Adrian Collacott, formerly of the Saint John's Yard pub, and Craig Beeson, chairman of West Kent CAMRA.

Yvonne has run the Royal Oak, which is one of the oldest surviving pubs in Tunbridge Wells, for the past nine years. During this time she has helped turn this 18th century former coaching inn into a real community pub, stocking a varied and constantly changing range of cask ales, as well as holding regular live music evenings, beer festivals and film afternoons. She is also credited with ensuring the pub’s continual survival, because back in September 2013, Yvonne and a band of loyal regulars banded together to secure ACV (Asset of Community Value), status for the Royal Oak.

This new status gave the Royal Oak a number of important safeguards, including allowing the group, Friends of the Royal Oak, and the local Community six months to bid for it should it go on the market. As an aside, this was the first time a piece of legislation under the new Localism Act 2011 - introduced by local MP Greg Clark - had been used in Tunbridge Wells to protect a community building, such as a pub, village hall or school.

The pub’s new owners have exciting plans for their customers and aim to build on the foundations laid down by Yvonne. They released a short statement saying, “they would be focusing on the local community with live music, festivals and themed events. The range of products will also be extended to include a diverse mix of different beers and spirits working, wherever possible, with local suppliers".

West Kent CAMRA Christmas 2014
A spokesman for West Kent CAMRA, told the local press that, “Yvonne had decided it was time to take a well earned sabbatical and try to spoil her feline compatriots a little bit more." He added, "To avoid any possible conflict of interest, Craig will be stepping down from his West Kent CAMRA Branch role either in November this year, or earlier if a replacement member can be appointed to the position. He will continue as an active CAMRA member and in his role as the Spa Valley Railway Beer festival organiser."

This is a time of change, not just for the Royal Oak and its customers, but for West Kent CAMRA as well and, like many branch members, whilst I am obviously pleased at the news, I am saddened at the prospect of losing our new branch chairman. Craig only stepped into the role at last November’s AGM, when there was a real threat to the survival of the branch.

I wrote a post about the dangers posed by a lack of active members and the advancing age of those of us who do still play a role within the branch. With two sons in their early twenties, both of whom have a keen interest in all things beer, Craig seemed the ideal person to be taking the branch forward, and he was actively pursuing a number of different avenues to try and get people more involved.

Photo - courtesy of WhatPub
The branch still has until November’s AGM to find a replacement chairman, but there are no obvious candidates at the moment. I fully understand Craig’s motives for wanting to stand down in order to concentrate fully on his new venture. I also appreciate his desire not to continue as chairman, in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest. I of course, wish him and his business partner Adrian, every success with their Oak Craft Beer Company. Finally, I would like to wish Yvonne every happiness in whatever she decides to do, now she no longer has the problems of running a pub, keeping her awake at night.

The Royal Oak is a traditional pub which dates back to 1735. It is situated on the busy crossroads of Prospect Road, Pembury Road, Bayhall Road and Calverley Road, and as well as offering a friendly welcome, the pub is home to a number of clubs and societies. It is well worth making the 10-15 minutes walk from the town centre, in order to experience it yourself.

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